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Pressure? Expectations? Not for relaxed Phelps

Aug. 06, 2008, 8:07 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING(AP) Like a kid hanging out in his college dorm, Michael Phelps is having a blast at the Olympic village - watching movies, playing spades with his roommates, goofing around whenever possible. He's even sporting a Fu Manchu mustache.

``I'm just here enjoying myself,'' Phelps said Wednesday. ``It's fun.''

What, you were expecting something else?

A five-star hotel, perhaps, for the 23-year-old who's already made millions in endorsements? Or loads of quiet time before Phelps tries winning a record eight gold medals?

Nah. Phelps is staying loose by savoring his time as one of the boys. After all the work he's put in the last four years, a few intense days right before the big meet is probably the last thing he needs.

``I'm preparing myself the best way I can to compete as fast as I can,'' Phelps said. ``That's my goal and that's what I am going to stick with. I haven't said anything about breaking any record or going after a record. I'm just going out there and trying to do something that I want to do. My goals haven't been published. (Coach Bob Bowman) and I are the only two that know them. We're going to work through the next week and hopefully try to accomplish our goals.''

Still, Phelps gets it. He knows he's the star of the show, the one given his own news conference - well, along with 41-year-old Dara Torres - right before a get-together with six other swimmers to avoid stealing their spotlight. And he's the reason the news conference was held in the biggest meeting room at the media center.

The half hour of questions and answers turned out like most of Phelps' races: He knew what was coming and deftly met all challenges.

On pollution: ``It's not that bad. I haven't noticed any problems.''

On concerns about facing swimmers who are doping: ``I know I'm clean.''

On finals being held in the morning so they can be shown live in prime time for U.S. television viewers, a change made because of his quest: ``It's the Olympic Games. You have to be ready to swim or compete whenever you have the opportunity. Morning, night, midday, midnight - it doesn't matter.''

On the venue known as the Water Cube: ``It's exciting when you just walk into the pool. You can sort of imagine the place being jam packed. I'm looking forward to it on the first day, being in that atmosphere.''

On Mark Spitz, whose record of seven gold medals he is chasing: ``I have not talked to Mark. He wished me best of luck at trials when he gave out some awards.''

On his fu manchu, which - if kept - could become as recognizable as Spitz's bushy mustache: ``I'm just messing around with it a little bit. I've had facial hair leading into a few of my events over the last year or so.''

The closest Phelps came to stumbling was when a Dutch reporter asked about the 200-meter freestyle being easier following the withdrawal of Pieter van den Hoogenband, aka ``The Flying Dutchman,'' who won gold in 2000 and silver in '04.

``I had no idea,'' Phelps said, laughing and turning to Bowman for confirmation.

It's a keen point, though, because it gets back to those secret goals. They're not about a medal count, but about beating certain times - albeit times that likely will win gold and break records.

Phelps already has six gold medals and two bronze from Athens four years ago. He won seven golds at last year's world championships, setting four records along the way.

``Physically, he's just much stronger and more mature, so he's got a lot more power. Still has the fitness,'' Bowman said, comparing Phelps to the 19-year-old version in '04. ``Emotionally, he's the same guy. ... The biggest advantage he has now is he's been through the process before so he knows what to expect, and he's handled all the other things that come with the Olympic Games better.''

Phelps' eight events are the 200 meter freestyle, the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 200 and 400 individual medley, the 400 and 800 freestyle relays and the 400 medley relay.

Counting preliminaries and semifinals, he's likely to swim 17 times, with finals Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, two on Wednesday, a break Thursday, then the big finish Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The event he ranks toughest? The very first one, the 400 IM.

So maybe he should have as much fun as he can while he still can. Besides, he only can for a little longer; his first preliminary race is Saturday evening, so he's skipping the opening ceremony Friday night.

``I think we've spent the better part of Michael's career training for a big program like this,'' Bowman said. ``We're looking forward to the challenge and I think he's going for it.''

``I would never bet against him,'' said Eddie Reese, coach of the U.S. men's team.

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